Ladies and Gentleman, the newest winner of American Idol is Phillip Phillips, a 21-year-old pawn shop worker from Leesburg, Georgia. His low-key charisma and straightforward guitar skills earned him a majority of viewers' record 132 million votes and a victory over 16-year-old Jessica Sanchez, the tiny doll with a soaring voice.
As a TV commentator I'm legally obligated to mention that Phillip Phillips is now the fifth consecutive white male guitar player to take home the title. But for those of us less interested in cynical exercises and who maybe just like to be entertained by handsome singers with distinctive sensibilities, America made the right choice! Among the many things this season of American Idol did right—no really! This was a solid season—it actually allowed Phillip Phillips to create a persona for himself that seemed like someone you'd like to hear on the radio or see live in concert. You know, an actual, singular star. The judges typically declined to critique his growly singing voice and usually just encouraged him to do this thing; the producers wrote him an incredible original song (the Mumford & Sons-esque "Home"); and the viewers embraced him from the start. It's not rocket science, just good TV.
If you've watched this show long enough and read enough commentary about it, you know there's this bizarre, widespread understanding that we're supposed to vote for people who can sing to the mountaintops. But is that really what makes for good entertainment? Stars don't always sing perfectly (see: Jennifer Lopez's finale performance) and Top 40 radio is not about who can scream loudest about overcoming adversity. Personally, what I want out of an American Idol is someone with a catchy tune and an appealing point of view. Phillip Phillips was that person this season. Authentic, unvarnished, secretly hilarious: He never bored me. He wore his influences proudly—Dave Matthews and Johnny Lange were the most clichéd points of comparison—but if he's this good at distilling down the best parts of American folk rock now, just imagine what he'll do post-Idol.
Because the ratings weren't so hot this season, it's widely rumored that the producers will be looking to retool the show for next year. If I may offer a suggestion, it would be to continue rounding out the contestants as full-blown artists rather than propping them up as spangly karaoke performers. If they've written music, let us hear it! If they want to dance, let them dance! This season did a great job of dressing stages for the singers by providing backup musicians (like that hot lady saxophonist!), backup singers, even extras. These stagings really enhanced the visual aspect of each performance, giving us more artistry to become invested in. But the main thing I'd like to see is more original songs throughout the season and not just on finale night. Phillip Phillips' finale song, "Home," was a real stunner (that marching band!) and possibly won him the title during the span of those three minutes. But even Jessica's song, "Change Nothing," while nowhere near as great, still made her seem like an actual pop star with something new to say. TL;DR I dig creativity in my pop stars.
Anyway, if you didn't watch last night's finale, then you missed some genuinely memorable moments. During her surprise duet with Jessica Sanchez, original Dreamgirls Tony-winner Jennifer Holliday made some of the craziest faces I've ever seen on live television. Joshua Ledet kinda fell on his butt during a group number. Ace Young proposed to Diana DeGarmo. BOTH Fantasia Barrino and Chaka Khan wore outrageously unflattering sequined bodysuits. But in all sincerity, one moment was truly memorable, and it was Phillip Phillips emotionally crumbling during his victory performance. Imagine six months of the most intense pressure of your life culminating in one glorious moment... I probably wouldn't have been able to finish my song either! If this doesn't move you, then your heart ain't beating:
Let's not be jaded. This was great TV. Congratulations, Phillip Phillips!
... Were YOU happy with the outcome?
... How did Season 11 stack up against past seasons?
... How would you change the show for Season 12?